Nestled in the southwest corner of New York State lies a small, private, Franciscan Catholic University, St. Bonaventure. The university’s athletic teams are currently known as the Bonnies after decades as the St. Bonaventure Brown Indians. The school was established in 1858 and the men’s basketball team first took the floor in 1916. In 1979, the Bonnies joined what would eventually become the Atlantic 10 Conference.
In 1966, St. Bonaventure opened the Reilly Center which would become home for the men’s basketball team among other school athletic programs. The center was named after Carroll “Mike” Reilly, a former student athlete, faculty member, football and basketball coach, and athletic director. Reilly is a member of the St. Bonaventure Athletic Hall of Fame. The Reilly Center would have its court dedicated to its most famous player, who brought the most success to the program, Bob Lanier. The Reilly Center has quickly gained a reputation as one of the most difficult places to play in all of college basketball.
St. Bonaventure has seen a mixed bag of success over the years. The team’s greatest accomplishment was no doubt an appearance in the Final Four in 1970 led by Lanier, who was injured and could not play in the team’s semi-final loss. The Bonnies also claim appearances in six NCAA tournaments, a 1997 NIT Championship and a 2012 Atlantic 10 Championship.
The low point for the team must be regarded as the 2002-2003 season where all of the Bonnies’ games were forfeited due to the use of an ineligible player. The university cleaned house and has successfully climbed back to relevance in their conference.
A trip to see the St. Bonaventure Bonnies will most definitely be rewarding, possibly in ways that are unexpected.
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Concessions at the Reilly Center can be a little deceiving. At first glance, there is really nothing all that special about the options that are available. The two main concession stands in the east and west concourses offer a very basic menu. Your typical arena fare is available including popcorn, hot dogs, sausage, pretzels, nachos, candy and chips.
There is no alcohol for sale and soda products that are available are Pepsi products. The prices for concessions however are excellent (popcorn $1.50; hot dogs $2.25; soda $1). If you do a bit more checking, you will find that the place to be is the RC Cafe in the south concourse. The variety is much better at the cafe and you can also find burgers, quesadilla, Philly beef sandwiches, wraps, deli sandwiches, chicken and fries. The prices are also reasonable inside the cafe. Overall, the menu is probably worth a lower mark, but the prices bump that up just a bit.
In 2001, Jay Bilas ranked the Reilly Center as one of the five most hostile places to play in the NCAA. Much has changed since then and the 2003 scandal seems to have taken much of the wind out of the Bonnies' sails. Still, the Reilly Center is a good place to catch an NCAA basketball game.
The Reilly Center has an old gym feel to it. Lower sections feature plastic bleachers and are very close to the action. There are also two sets of small bleachers behind the baskets. The upper sections feature older, padded seats, which probably should be replaced sooner rather than later. The sightlines are very good throughout the Reilly Center, however patrons should be weary of selecting seats right behind the concourse entrances as safety bars may prove to be obstructing of the view.
St. Bonaventure does a fantastic job of sharing their vast history. Inside the Reilly Center you will find banners above the court celebrating the various accomplishments of the men's and women's basketball teams including 16 NCAA and NIT appearances. The south wall highlights the greatest seasons for the Bonnies specifically the 1970 Final Four appearance and the 1997 NIT Championship. There are nine retired numbers honouring 10 players above the court including Andrew Nicholson, Tom Stith, Sam Stith, Bill Butler, Fred Crawford, Essic Hollis, Earl Belcher, Ronald Martin, Ken Murray Jr. and Bob Lanier.
There are also banners honouring long time St. Bonaventure coaches Eddie Donovan, Larry Weise and Jim Satalin. In the concourses there are numerous displays showing special moments in Bonnies athletics for a variety of teams, especially large displays for some of the best Bonnies basketball players.
The rest of the Bonnies experience is fairly simple. The Bona Wolf mascot carries out the flag and waives it around at the beginning of the game. The score clock above center court is very simple and offers only the basic information necessary. The scoreboards at either end of the center offer a bit more info, but just the players on the floor and their points and fouls. The ROTC brings out the colours before the national anthem. Although the atmosphere is simple, it fits. For fans that want more info, wifi is available in the Reilly Center.
The immediate neighborhood surrounding the Reilly Center is the campus of the university. The campus is green and pleasant. Deer can even be seen on the quiet edges of campus.
If you are looking for pre or post game meal opportunities, you will have to leave campus and head into one of the neighboring towns or cities. The closest city to St. Bonaventure is Olean, which is just a quick jaunt up the road. There are numerous chain restaurants on West State Street. There are some other, more original options that can be found on North Union Street. You may wish to try Beef n' Barrel, Attard's, or Brothers Bistro.
Another option may be to make Bonnies basketball part of your greater ski vacation. St. Bonaventure is very close to the town of Ellicottville, New York. This is a quaint, ski resort town that bears investigating even if you are not a skier. If you are, then Holiday Valley may be for you. St. Bonaventure rivals Niagara Purple Eagles and Canisius Golden Griffins are not terribly far away and could be combined as part of a larger sports roadtrip.
St. Bonaventure attendance has remained fairly consistent with most games welcoming between 3,200 and 3,600 fans. Games against Niagara or Canisius will bring out more fans. The attendance is what is to be expected for the area and school that size. Remember, the capacity of the Reilly Center, although not huge, is bigger than the population of the university. Generally speaking, Bonnies fans are fairly quiet and reserved, however they are also intelligent and will get up and make noise for big spots in the game. There is no true student section and it appears that the Bonnies could use a little more student support.
Getting to the Reilly Center is not a major problem. The Reilly Center is located at the south end of campus. St. Bonaventure is located just south of Highway 417 and I-86. The campus is fairly easy to get around, but preferred parking is for school donors and can make getting to the Reilly Center a bit confusing. There is free parking on campus, but you may have to walk a bit to get to the game.
There is plenty of space inside the Reilly Center and moving around is no problem. Washroom facilities are also adequate.
The real advantage to Bonnies basketball is the minimal investment that needs to be made. With tickets for non-conference games going for as low as $10, you will have a hard time finding a deal that good anywhere else. Tickets can go as high as $26 for key games or Atlantic 10 games, but still can be as low as $12-$14 for those games. Combine the great ticket prices with excellent concession prices and free parking and you have a package where you can take the family out and have a great night's entertainment for a reasonable price.
Bonnies basketball is also of a high quality. Although the Atlantic 10 would probably not be considered a power conference, it is definitely a strong mid-major at the very least and the quality of basketball is top notch.
An extra mark for the promotion that was on review day. The first 200 fans to the game could receive a free ticket. A great promotion for a date in which there are few to no students around to help build the attendance.
An extra mark for the vast history of St. Bonaventure basketball and the great job that the university has done putting it on display.
An extra mark for the ability to put a St. Bonaventure Bonnies basketball game as part of a ski vacation at Holiday Valley in Ellicottville, New York.
The Bonnies have seen the high of highs and the low of lows over the past two decades. They have leveled out a bit and continue to provide a top notch product on the floor for a minimal investment. A trip to see the Bonnies will not end in disappointment and the Reilly Center is a great spot for college basketball.
The bucolic campus of St. Bonaventure University sits just outside of Olean, New York, straddling the Western New York/Pennsylvania border. And almost in the exact center of the campus sits the Reilly Center, the social nerve center of the college. Opened in the mid 1960s, the building serves as a social center, houses athletic offices, a natatorium, retail food and bookstore outlets, conference space, and most importantly, the 5,500 seat basketball arena that houses the St. Bonaventure Bonnies men’s and women’s programs.
Come back when students are in town. It wasn't ranked by ESPN for nothing. Student section is right on the floor and they are as passionate as any fan base in New York.
The Reilly Center is indeed a simple arena. It's all about basketball. No frills, but for basketball purists, it's great. Cheap ticket prices and not many bad seats in the house.
The RC is a brutal place for visiting teams because the students are less than three feet from the sideline and there's really no security to speak of around the students.
Check out the student section photo gallery from the game against Canisius and tell me the RC doesn't have a great atmosphere.
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